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Export Doldrums Persist But Is a Tale of Two Californias Being Written?

Sacramento, October 9 – While August was another bleak month for California exporters, the latest international trade figures hint that northern California may be emerging from the current recession faster than southern California.

Overall, California’s merchandise export trade in August totaled just over $10.0 billion [$10.03 billion], up 2.7 percent from July but still 22.3 percent below the $12.9 billion in goods the state shipped abroad in August of last year, according to a University of California Center Sacramento analysis of international trade data released this morning by the U.S. Commerce Department.

August was the tenth consecutive month in which the state posted export totals substantially lower than those reported in the same month a year earlier. It also saw the lowest California export totals for the month of August since 2005.

California’s manufactured exports in August fell by 24.5 percent from last August, while agricultural goods and other non-manufactured exports shrunk 23.5 percent. Re-exports of goods previously imported into the state were off by 12.3 percent.

“Although the statewide numbers remain dismal, the Los Angeles area seems to be the real laggard,” said Jock O’Connell, the UC Center’s international trade and economics adviser.

He noted that the number of loaded shipping containers leaving the neighboring Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in August was down by 14.5 percent from last year. By contrast, loaded containers sailing from the Port of Oakland were up by 12.8 percent over the same period.

The story was similar at the state’s two principal international airports. Export tonnage in August was down 3.4 percent at Los Angeles International, but up by 5.2 percent at San Francisco International.

Other statistics show that the value of U.S. exports shipped through the Los Angeles Customs District in August was 26.9 percent less than last August, while exports from the San Francisco Customs District were off by 15.2 percent. Meanwhile, exports through the San Diego Customs District were down by 14.1 percent.

“To be sure, California's seaports, airports and border crossings serve exporters throughout the country,” O’Connell remarked. “But since California businesses perhaps account for as much as two-thirds of the value of all exports leaving the U.S. through a California gateway, these numbers do suggest that economic recovery may be further underway in northern California and in San Diego than in the Los Angeles basin.”

So far in 2009, California exports have totaled $76.1, down 23.1 percent compared to the first eight months of 2008, when the state’s exports amounted to $98.9 billion.

Things were no better on the import side of the ledger. The UC Center Sacramento analysis revealed that $29.3 billion in foreign goods entered the U.S. through California in August, a drop of 24.1 percent from the $38.5 billion reported in August of last year.[Note: There are no data sources measuring the value or volume of imports by state of final destination.]